Lifestyle and Infertility

4 Simple Changes for the Better

When they are struggling with infertility, both men and women feel stressed and distressed.  In about 30 percent of cases of infertility, both women and men have problems that need treatment.  It’s clear that fertility is not just a woman’s problem.

But did you know that lifestyle factors which you both can control can affect your fertility and your quality of life?  Here are four lifestyle areas to consider, myths about these choices, and what you can do every day to improve your chances of having a baby.

Lifestyle and Your Fertility

  • Cigarette Smoking—Smoking has been proven to decrease fertility in both men and women. Women who smoke have more difficulty getting pregnant and, if they have IVF treatment, lower success rates than women who don’t smoke, according to this research study.  For men, smoking can contribute to atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.  Smoking restrictss blood flow to the penis, which contributes to male impotence and infertility.
  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse—Marijuana smoking has been linked to infertility. In men, it’s been linked to the development of abnormally shaped sperm.  Heavy drinking is known to decrease a man’s sperm count.  Recent studies seem to show that moderate drinking does not affect a woman’s fertility, but heavy drinking can make IVF treatment less successful.
  • Obesity—Obesity is associated with a higher rate of infertility in women, in part because of the prevalence of PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome. But overweight or obese women who don’t have PCOS are also affected, because the extra adipose (fat) tissue produces molecules that can disrupt ovulation, contribute to insulin resistance, and increase inflammation.  And it’s not just women!  Obese men have been found to have lower sperm counts and lower sperm motility.  This may be due to hormonal imbalances and higher body temperatures due to obesity.
  • Heat Exposure—Heat is a factor in male infertility. A man’s testicles need to be four degrees cooler than body temperature to make healthy sperm.  Hot tubs, saunas, holding a laptop in your lap, being around a hot stove, cycling and tight-fitting clothes can raise the temperature of the testicles.  Physiological problems can also cause issues with heat, such as an undescended testicle or a varicocele, swollen veins due to reduced blood flow.  Obesity can be a factor as well, since a fat pad around the scrotum will keep the testicles warmer.

Myths about Lifestyle

The boxers-versus-briefs argument is really irrelevant.  What matters is, is a man’s underwear so tight that his scrotum is restricted?  Another myth is that smoking does not affect a man’s fertility.  Study after study has shown that cigarette smoking does decrease fertility in both men and women.   Some studies suggest that long-distance cycling has a negative effect on men’s fertility, perhaps due to the tight clothes cyclists wear.  So that one may not be a myth!

Conquer the Causes

Some simple lifestyle changes can make a big, positive difference in both women’s and men’s fertility.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.  If you are overweight or obese, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can have a significant effect on your health, and that includes your fertility.
  • Quit smoking. If you’re trying to conceive, both of you should not smoke.  Quitting is not the easiest thing to do, but your doctor can help both male and female partners to quit.
  • Cut back on drinking, and don’t smoke pot or use drugs. Even recreational use should be off the table if you’re trying to get pregnant or undergoing IVF treatment.
  • For men, keep it cool. Stay out of saunas and hot tubs.  Wear loose clothing, and avoid holding laptops or other heat-producing equipment on your lap.  If you have any physical issues which are overheating your testicles, your fertility specialist may refer you to an urologist for treatment.